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Tenn. Program Teaches Road Safety

September 13, 2002

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MONTEAGLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A few minutes in the plush, bouncy driver’s seat of a parked tractor-trailer gave 73-year-old Wayne Terneus a new feel for what truckers can’t see on the highway.

``You just don’t realize the size of them until you get in there,″ the St. Louis retiree said after he climbed down from the 60-foot-long rig.

Terneus was among Interstate 24 motorists who stopped for a break at a mountaintop rest area and got a highway safety lesson from inside the cab of an 18-wheeler. The Tennessee Department of Safety promotion, called the ``No Zone″ program, aims to teach drivers of passenger vehicles how to stay out of a trucker’s blind spots.

From their lofty cabs, truckers are blocked from seeing fellow drivers in four ``no zones″: directly in front and behind the truck, and areas along both sides of the trailer behind the front wheels.

The safety lesson, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, is part of a 5-year-old Safety Department program to reduce accidents involving commercial vehicles. It is conducted by 13 officers from the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division, which regulates and licenses trucks.

Tennessee, with more than 17,000 trucking companies and some 323,628 licensed trucks, is among the nation’s busiest commercial vehicle states, Sgt. John Harmon said.

``We are trying to educate the motoring public on the dangers of driving around a truck, a motor coach or a school bus,″ Harmon said.

Trucking companies provide trucks and veteran drivers to work with the officers. Their message: Collisions with semitrailers usually involve blind spots. And motorists who can see truckers, some in rigs up to 75 feet long, shouldn’t assume truckers can also see them.

``You can place four cars around that truck in the blind spots,″ Harmon said. ``We want the motorists to be aware of where they are so they won’t stay there.″

Although ``everybody complains about truckers,″ Harmon said about 60 percent of all fatal car-truck collisions are caused by car drivers.

``Most people think that because that truck is sitting up high that the driver can see everything,″ said Department of Safety Maj. Burton Lawson. ``You don’t have the field of vision you have in an automobile and you can’t stop those things very quickly.″

Lawson started Tennessee’s program, which also visits civic clubs, schools and driver education classes. It is supported by state and federal money and costs about $150,000 annually.

``I don’t know of any state that is doing exactly what we are doing,″ he said.

Lawson credits the program with helping to reduce truck-car collision fatalities from 175 in 1996 to 162 in 2000 and 138 last year. He also praises the cooperation between state regulators and the business they oversee.

``One of the most important things it has accomplished is it has gotten enforcement and the industry talking to each other,″ he said. ``It has taken that adversarial role away.″


On The Net:

Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division: www.state.tn.us/safety/vehicle.html

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